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OCS Leadership

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young
Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and USDA's Chief Scientist

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young serves as the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), and as USDA’s Chief Scientist. The REE mission area is comprised of more than 8,500 employees with a $4 billion budget across its five component organizations including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Economic Research Service (ERS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). Together these organizations advance agricultural research, innovation, data, and Extension across a full range of agricultural issues including climate-smart agriculture, nutrition security, equity, and strengthening food supply chains. As Chief Scientist, Dr. Jacobs-Young advises the Secretary of Agriculture and other senior officials on scientific matters and chairs the USDA Science Council, which convenes all parts of USDA’s scientific enterprise.

Prior to being appointed by President Biden to serve as the REE Under Secretary, Dr. Jacobs-Young was Administrator for ARS from 2014 to 2022. Prior to that role, she served as ARS Associate Administrator for National Programs, leading the research objectives of the entire Agency. She also led the Office of International Research Programs, which is responsible for ARS' liaison with its international partners. From 2009 to 2012, Dr. Jacobs-Young served as the inaugural OCS Director, where she was responsible for facilitating the coordination of scientific leadership across the Department to ensure that research supported by, and scientific advice provided to, the Department and external stakeholders were held to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and scientific integrity. She has also served as the Acting Director for NIFA and as a senior policy analyst for agriculture in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Dr. Jacobs-Young is a native of Georgia. She holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Wood and Paper Science and a B.S. degree in Pulp and Paper Science and Technology from North Carolina State University. She is a graduate of American University's Key Executive Leadership in Public Policy Implementation Program, and a proud fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Public Administration.

Dr. Deirdra Chester
Acting Director, Office of the Chief Scientist

Dr. Deirdra Chester serves as the Acting Director, Office of the Chief Scientist. In her permanent position, she serves as the Division Director of the Division of Nutrition, Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition. In this role, she provides leadership and oversight for the division’s research, education and extension activities across the nation through competitive grant programs. These programs are focused on nutrition, functional components of food, the microbiome, and the prevention of chronic diseases. She also provides leadership to the division’s strategic priorities as well as supervision and administration of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) at the federal level.

Prior to returning to NIFA, Dr. Chester was the agency Science Advisor for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the Office of the Administrator. Prior to joining APHIS, she served as the National Program Leader for Applied Nutrition Research in the Division of Nutrition, Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA. In her role as the National Program Leader of Applied Nutrition Research, she provided leadership in identifying emerging issues of national importance, program reviews, and grants management in nutrition, functional components of food, childhood obesity prevention, food safety outreach and the Small Business Innovative Research in Nutrition and Food Safety. Prior to joining NIFA, Dr. Chester was a scientist at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. Dr. Chester is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist.

Dr. Chester has spoken both nationally and internationally on nutrition topics. Dr. Chester is on the editorial board of the Journal of Obesity and Chronic Disease.

Dr. Chester is a graduate of the American University Key Executive Leadership program. She is SES certified through the USDA Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program. Dr. Chester holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Nutrition from Florida International University where she was awarded the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship and was in the inaugural class of the Gates Millennial Scholars. She holds a Master of Science degree in Food and Nutrition Science and a baccalaureate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Florida State University.

Dr. Chester is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. The American Public Health Association Food and Nutrition Section awarded her the Mary C. Egan Award which recognizes pioneers in innovative approaches to public health nutrition. She was also awarded the Circle of Excellence Alumni Award by Florida State University’s College of Human Science.

Dr. Richard Derksen
OCS, Deputy Director

Dr. Richard (Rich) Derksen serves as the Deputy Director of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). In this role, he provides a wide range of administrative and budget leadership for the Office and supervises/mentors fellows. Dr. Derksen supports the Chief Scientist in leading collaboration activities for science programs that support scientific excellence, innovation, and capacity to achieve USDA’s mission. He provides direction and leadership on a wide range of issues affecting programs in agricultural research, education, and economics.

Dr. Derksen has over 25 years of engineering research experience. He is an internationally recognized expert in crop production and protection engineering. Dr. Derksen began his career at USDA in 1996 when he joined the Agricultural Research Service as a research scientist. He has authored over 200 publications, including 78 peer-reviewed journal manuscripts, and given numerous invited presentations at national and international scientific meetings. Dr. Derksen received his Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Illinois. He received his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering from Purdue University. He previously held a faculty research and extension appointment at Cornell University. Dr. Derksen is originally from Indiana and has engaged in his local communities as a 4-H advisor, neighborhood association leader, and substitute teacher.